Unforgettable Trip to South Korea Part 1

Wow! Just can’t imagine how long it has been since my last blog post. It feels so strange to write a blog again and seems like I have to re-learn how to post! So much has happened and it’s tricky to determine one event that made the most impact in my life since my last post. There are a number of them and I guess I’ll have several posts on that.

Perhaps one of the highlights of my life recently was the Harvard World Model United Nations (WorldMUN) that I’ve attended last March in Seoul. Model United Nations is a simulation of the proceedings in the United Nations and, sometimes, conferences include other notable international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Union (EU) and even the Central Politburo of the Communist Party of China. Simulations allow students to get a glimpse of the policy-making process and engage in debates, coalition building, research, resolution writing and many more.

WorldMUN claims to be the olympics of MUN. While I could not compare it to other international MUNs because it was the only one I have attended (I have attended a few local MUNs), I should say that it was the most intense MUN I’ve been to. Imagine having 2,400 undergraduate and graduate students from 118 countries participating in the conference. Each student brings with them their worldview, shaped by their own culture, education and experiences in life. That enriches the debates and the proceedings of the conference. It is just amazing to debate on pressing issues with some of world’s top students.

This year, the conference lasted for 5 days from March 16 to 20, 2015. There were more than 20 committees. I was assigned as a single delegate at the Historical General Assembly where the topic touched on the Bosnian Crisis.

 

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ROAD TO HARVARD WORLDMUN 2015

Probably many would think of the difficulty that went into the 5 days of the conference, but that was just a tip of the iceberg. There were so many things that went before the conference proper. The weekly trainings, the research, the struggle of juggling between MUN and demanding academic and org responsibilities, raising money for the trip and basically planning the whole thing; those needed a lot of effort, patience and determination.

It was so funny how I got into WorldMUN and MUN in general. I saw a link on Facebook around November, I think, and I tagged the Secretary General of the university’s MUN, Nic Espinoza, and another brilliant MUN dude, Jian Manjares. 

Nic and Jian got so excited that the comments section of the post seemed to have burst with their enthusiasm. I didn’t get the MUN fever then, but after talking to Nic and the people who were doing MUNs in the university later on, I realized how fun and fulfilling it could be.

The road to WorldMUN introduced me to local conferences as well. The first one I’ve attended was BenildeMUN 2014, the oldest MUN in the country, hosted by (as the name suggests) the De La Salle College of St. Benilde. I didn’t know what to expect and I had to observe and look at how people worked. From then I took off and became more comfortable doing the next 2 local conferences that I would be attending: Ateneo MUN and De La Salle MUN.

When it came to preparation, I had to thank Nic for his commitment. There were times when the whole delegation would not take trainings seriously. One saturday Nic could not attend training because he had class. So what we did, to his disappointment, was sneaked in and just watch a movie about Kim Jong Un (whatever that was!). Despite being jackasses sometimes, Nic perservered and made sure we could get the best training we could have, given our limitations (in time, knowledge, etc.). So much respect for the guy.

The other members of the delegation were no less than inspiring. We had a bunch of delegates from first to fifth year in the university. I was impressed how the younger members of the delegation took the role of playing diplomats seriously, discussing international issues passionately and critically. We’re each other’s biggest supporter and staunchest critic at the right time. Being a latecomer in the MUN team, I had to ask questions, strategies and rules of procedures from younger batchmen and women. In universities, senior students often act superior to younger students. But in our delegation, we’re like friends. Our relationships were not anchored on hierarchies. I’m also thankful to Dr. de Leon for giving me a few insights to help me in my research.

WORLDMUN 2015 APPROACHING

The day we’ve been waiting for and, I’m quiet scared of, came at last. It was 8:30 p.m. and I was standing in front of the Department of Education’s (DepEd) HQ and couldn’t get a taxi!

I was freaking out because like in previous foreign trips (I only had two by the way before Seoul), I knew that one was expected to come 3 hours earlier before departure time. The departure time in my case is 12 am. Since I couldn’t get a taxi in DepEd, I took all my baggages and went to Escriva Drive which was on the other end of the village where I lived. No one will know how much uncomfortable it was to me. I’ve already worn my thermals to prepare for the cold because I didn’t want to change clothes in the plane. Imagine me walking from one end of the village to another, carrying all my baggage and wearing 1 layer of winter clothes in sweltering tropical heat! That was insane.

When I got a taxi, I was sweating like crazy. I wanted to remove my shirt but thank goodness the taxi was airconditioned so I didn’t have to. The thing was, the sweat dried up and further put stress to my already sickly body. Days before leaving for Seoul, I was doing my fieldwork for thesis and had an exam. Well, I was a little sickly for the rest of the trip in Korea because of all that. Fail!

I arrived at the airport around 9:30 pm, not well into the 3 hour time I thought needed for an international flight. After checking in, I met Mandy and we went to Starbucks at the airport where Alec was staying. Wildy came in later. Nic followed. These people would be my laughing buddies for the rest of the trip.

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JUST LANDED IN KPOP LAND

We arrived in South Korea early in the morning and it was -2 C. I was freezing. That was my first time in a cold country. But that didn’t bother me so much because South Korea was beautiful. I seemed to have forgotten that I was cringing due to the cold.

 

 

Their infrastructure, their roads in particular was wide, no traffic, and the bridges and all construction works extended as long as the eyes could see. “This was what development was like”, I thought to myself.

The moment we arrived at the inn, we just changed clothes and went out for sight seeing. Some delegates attended a Catholic mass. Unfortunately, I found it hard to find an English Christian service around the area even after asking the concierge at the inn and looking online. So I decided to go with Mandy and Alec. We went to Myeongdong and took breakfast somewhere in the narrow back alleys we’ve explored. Alec ordered bibimbap, Mandy some yellow soup or porridge (I guess) and I got noodles. Finally we were able to taste Korean cuisine in Korea. 

Afterwards, we went around Myeongdong, in the shopping areas. It was fascinating because high end shops had their own individual buildings and small stalls occupied the middle of the streets a la cleaner version of Divisoria x Greenbelt in the Philippines.

Honestly though, I prefer to shop in the Philippines where our malls are like EVERYTHING. Foreigners who’ve been to the Philippines would know. The high end or low end stuff will depend on which mall you go into. And for me its more easier to navigate around our malls because all the smaller shops are there. In South Korea, the malls I’ve been too were practically the department stores we have here. Just one component of our malls.

This is my opinion though. Maybe other people prefer the way it is done in South Korea or the country has more than what I’ve explored.

SOME REALIZATION AND FIRST DAY OF CONFERENCE

When I was in South Korea, I had some inner urge to speak Tagalog rather than English. Growing up I used to speak only in Tagalog. But when I went to college, I still spoke in Tagalog frequently but English basically was the first language that I was using. Honestly, I have to admit, that unfortunately, English is viewed in the Philippines (like in many countries) as more sophisticated, it’s thought to be cool and signifies higher social status and education.

In South Korea, I felt pride in speaking a language I can call my own. People there spoke Korean and, to some extent, English. 

Later in the conference, people spoke a whole lot more languages. Some I didn’t even know to have existed! The first day, there were multitudes of people in Kintex. People of all colors and languages. Undergraduate and Graduate students from 118 countries. Imagine that! I met people from Canada, South Africa, Indonesia, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Switzerland, Germany, Britain, Italy, China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, India, Taiwan, France, Belgium, Spain, United States, Singapore, Thailand, United Kingdom and Mexico. That was just during the first day. During the orientation!

In that situation, I felt pride in speaking a language that only I and the people from my country understood. It differentiated me and the Filipinos from other people in the conference. The feeling of having your own identity and unique characteristic seemed to have electrified me deep into my bones. Although with UA&P delegates I still spoke in Tag-lish (Tagalog x English) most of the time, I’ve never felt as proud of my language and as proud of being a Filipino than when I was in South Korea.

Funnily, I had to leave for a moment during the orientation because I forgot my wallet in the café near Daehwa train station (thank God I got it back).

In that short amount of time though, I had some time to reflect. I sensed an irony. Despite being proud of my country, language and culture, I was surprised how shocked I was by the multitude of people and felt intimidated talking to other delegates, especially to Americans and Europeans. I didn’t think they were imposing their superiority as what colonizers did to Filipinos in the past. It was my own conception of inferiority (and I believe its true for many, not all,  delegates from developing countries) that made me feel no good compared to them.

As I continued walking towards the café, I further held on that thought. Looking back though, there was a lingering thought inside me thinking that hierarchy is not an ever present reality, its a choice. Sometimes it is us who impose it on ourselves. 

There was also something in my mind that I learned from long ago, that diversity is a strength rather than a weakness. That all individuals are endowed by God with potentials. That not one of us are the same. That all of us are created different. And that difference is designed to complement than to spark conflict with one another. That no one is too big or too small because of his race, religion, culture and language. What defines us is the amount of determination we have, the way we treat other people, and the passsion we have in whatever we do.

WorldMUN is a wonderful opportunity for many of us to overcome that fear of being different. WorldMUN is where people are given the chance to understand the beauty that lies in the diversity of people around the world. WorldMUN is where young people can channel their desires of making a difference in the world and put them into action.

I got my wallet back and walked toward Kintex. I haven’t fully grasped the reasons to overcome my fears, but I got part of the answer that would guide me in the next four days of the conference.

———-

Part 2 to follow.

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7 thoughts on “Unforgettable Trip to South Korea Part 1

  1. TF

    I’ve only read a fifth of the entire blog and I’m already enticed to read the rest! But onto another day cause I want to read this with Aaron ! 😀 Great insights, Ron and so well written.

    Reply
  2. Dolcandy

    Impressive story!
    This is the first time to know about WorldMun Conference and by luckily reading your article, I got interested in the conference. Thank you for the informative and interesting series of stories 🙂
    By the way, regarding the small stalls in the middle of the streets–not sure if I’m referring to them correctly– selling foods and small accessories, those are illegal street vendors that operate without business permit, hygiene regulation, and taxation. Unlike in the Philippines, they earn millions in a year without tax and their background of businesses is dark–involving gangsters. Yeah, that’s one of the dark sides of Korean society 😦

    Reply
    1. rondangcalan Post author

      Apparently, the Philippines also has a big informal economy. But its concentrated in areas like divisoria, quiapo or in the sidewalks. High end areas such as Ayala and Ortigas have few of them.

      Korea’s case is not necessarily bad, in my opinion. It creates employment, boost purchasing power of the poor and creates demand in the formal economy because they need to buy stuff in supermarkets, etc to produce their goods. I think Korea is well positioned to put some rules in its informal economy to make sure they abide by health and waste regulations, and what not. I dont think that they should be the focus of govt efforts for taxation (although they can be charged for a minimal fee) because these are poor people trying to make ends meet. Why not make sure Chaebols and Multinational companies pay their taxes accurately? Or make sure that the richest professionals like doctors and business people are taxed according to law? I think a lot rich people evade paying taxes. And balancing government’s finances need not to be done at the expense of the poor. Just my opinion.

      With regards to WorlMUN, yeah its fantastic. Next year it will be in Rome. Hope your uni will send a delegation. Its always better that way since you’ll train as a group and someone will make an arrangement for the trip along with you. I’ll post a follow-up of conference proceedings in the next days. Still organizing my thoughts. Conference proceedings are the very essence of WorldMUN. They’re fun as well. Hope you’ll check them out.

      Reply
      1. Dolcandy

        Regarding the cases of Chaebols are quite complicated: they receive big opportunities and supports from the dictatorships during military governments from 1960s to 1980s. Even Samsung smuggled Sacchain in 1960s with a support from the military government and got a big profit from it.
        Even though South Korea has democratic government since 1990s, the currupted roots that tangle the government, politicians, prosecutors, media, and chaebols are still strong. Although many citizens are criticizing tax evasion of Chaebols, it’s still a long and difficult way. Of course I’m also a citizen who wants them to pay tax properly.
        And the case of illegal street vendors is a different thing. They are not poor like what we usually think; they earn a lot beyond our imagination. Even the government try to support legalization of the street vendors, they don’t follow because they don’t want to pay tax and hygine ragulation.
        The tax evasion of Chaebol is wrong, but it doesn’t justify what the street vendors do illegally.

      2. rondangcalan Post author

        Agree with you. Yeah I think both small and big guys have to be taxed progressively. I think you would agree that not all people selling in the streets are tied to criminal syndicates. There are good people who just want to make ends meet. I don’t think the government should be interested in taking so much from them. As for the bad guys, then the government should definitely get rid of them.

      3. Dolcandy

        It’s sad that citizen as a small group can’t make powerful voice 😦
        Anyway, it’s good to hear other voice from foreigner haha. Thank you for the amazing stories again!

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